Social Investment Policies in Times of Permanent Austerity
Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 11:00 AM
The objective of this paper is to identify the political conditions that are most likely to be conducive to the development of social investment policies. It starts from the view put forward by theorists of welfare retrenchment that in the current context of permanent austerity, policy is likely to be dominated by retrenchment and implemented in a way that allows governments to minimise the risk of electoral punishment (blame avoidance). It is argued that this view is inconsistent with developments observed in several European countries, were some welfare state expansion has taken place mostly in the fields of childcare and active labour market policy. An alternative model is put forward, that emphasises the notion of “affordable credit claiming”. It is argued that even under strong budgetary pressures, governments maintain a preference for policies that allow them to claim credit for their actions. Since the traditional redistributive policies tend to be off the menu for cost reasons, governments have tended to favour investments in childcare and active labour market policy as credit claiming tools.
Policies developed in this way while they have a social investment flavour, tend to be rather limited in the extent to which they genuinely improve prospects of disadvantaged people by investing in their human capital. A more ambitious strategy of social investment sees unlikely to develop on the basis of affordable credit claiming.
The paper starts by presenting the theoretical argument, which is then illustrated with examples taken from European countries both in the pre-crisis and in the post-crisis years.